Kirsten Johnson

Director/ Cinematographer ("Camera Person")

Kirsten Johnson, Director/ Cinematographer ("Camera Person")

Kirsten Johnson has worked as both documentary cinematographer and director committing herself to human rights issues and visual creativity. She is the principal cinematographer on over 40 feature-length documentaries and has been credited on countless others. After graduating from Brown University in 1987 with a BA in Fine Arts and Literature she travelled to Senegal to study with acclaimed filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambety and Ousmane Sembene. The experience inspired her to apply to the French National Film School (La Femis), where she began to study cinematography. While in La Femis she began to shoot the documentary Derrida, with directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick the earliest of Johnson’s work to appear in Cameraperson. After graduating from La Femis she went on to shoot a number of highly-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries including “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” “Fahrenheit 9/11” “This Film is Not Yet Rated” and “The Invisible War.” She has a longstanding collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, credited as cinematographer for “The Oath,” “Citizenfour,” the upcoming ""Asylum."" Additionally, she shot footage that appeared in Poitras' visual exhibition on surveillance, which opened at the Whitney Museum in spring 2016. In 2009 Johnson embarked on a directorial project documenting the lives of two teenagers in Afghanistan, the film was to be called “A Blind Eye.” After 3 years of shooting and cutting one of the teenagers retracted her permission to be featured and the film’s scope was reconsidered and structured around the footage that was shot, as well as footage from over 30 films Johnson had worked on over the years. Eventually this was edited into the film that became ""Cameraperson."" When not shooting she teaches the class in “Visual Thinking” at the NYU Graduate Journalism Department, a course in cinematography at SVA, and often leads workshops for young camerapeople and documentarians under the auspices of the Arab Art and Culture Fund in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Faculty News view all

Fall 2019 info sessions
October 24, 2018

Fall 2019 info sessions

Interested in human stories?  Connected to social justice issues?  Explore the potential of a career in documentary storytelling at SVA’s MFA Social Documentary Read More
Wisdom, Grit, Elephants & more SocDoc titles at Doc NYC
October 17, 2018

Wisdom, Grit, Elephants & more SocDoc titles at Doc NYC

Fall begins and we’re excited to find some of our alumni and faculty’s new films at Doc NYC this year! Come and join us to watch some amazing films - grab some friends!Read More
Fall Weekend Workshops
October 02, 2018

Fall Weekend Workshops

We've got three weekend workshops coming up in the Fall to help you brush up on your camera & sound skills and perfect your budget. Maybe you're just starting out and need the basics, or you are more experienced and want a refresher - the Read More
8th Thesis Showcase Films Announced!
September 12, 2018

8th Thesis Showcase Films Announced!

Join us to celebrate the graduates of School of VISUAL ARTS MFA Social Documentary Film with the 8th Annual Thesis Showcase. We are proud to celebrate GROUP 8, the class of 2018! Here we share their work-in-progress thesis films, which inspir Read More